Planting Trees in Residential Areas Can Bolster Urban Mental Health: Study
Residents of neighborhoods with lots of tree cover were found to have a reduced risk of depression, a new study has found — suggesting that trees could serve as natural preventative mental health care in cities.
Published in Scientific Reports, the study looked at prescriptions of 10,000 inhabitants from Leipzig, Germany, to assess their mental health, a departure from the methodology of previous studies linking more trees to better mental health, which have been largely based on self-reports. The results showed a reduced likelihood of being prescribed antidepressants among people living in tree-dense areas.
Globally, cities are associated with higher rates of mental health struggles than rural areas. The observation applies to India, too, in terms of the distribution of depression and anxiety across the country’s population, and the new study’s findings could inform city planning efforts that take into consideration the country’s mental health concerns.
“This scientific contribution can be a foundation for city planners to save and, possibly, improve the life quality for inhabitants, in particular, in densely populated areas and in central city areas, Therefore, this aspect should be taken into account when city areas are recreated and planned,” Toralf Kirsten, Ph.D., who works at the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioinformatics at Germany’s Leipzig University and who co-authored the study, said in a statement.
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While the study doesn’t venture too deep into explaining the reasons behind this association, experts have a number of hypotheses. Extreme heat has been linked to psychological distress — and since trees help in reducing temperatures, researchers believe that might indirectly help people’s mental health as well.
Previous research has also linked air pollution to poorer mental health, especially depression. And trees are already known to clean the air and reduce levels of pollution, offering a possible explanation for the link between greenery and better mental health.
Additionally, “the vibrant colors, natural shapes and textures, the fresh aromas and rustling of leaves in the breeze all provide distraction and relief from whatever it was you might have been thinking about, or even stressing over,” Xiaoqi Feng, Ph.D., a plant geneticist from England who wasn’t involved in this study, said in 2019.
Due to the multi-faceted benefits of trees — not only to human health but also to the environment — the researchers suggested planting them along streets in urban neighborhoods instead of building expensive parks. “To create these synergy effects, you don’t even need large-scale expensive parks: more trees along the streets will do the trick. And that’s a relatively inexpensive measure,” Aletta Bonn, Ph.D., an environmental researcher from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, said in a statement.